Tuesday, June 14, 2011


THE deployment of mobile courts by the Awami League-Jatiya Party government to, in the words of the home minister, ‘check anarchy’ during the 36- hour hartal (general strike)—called by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led opposition camp to protest against incumbents’ decision to have the constitutional provision for election-time non-party caretaker government scrapped— contravenes, at one go, universal democratic principles, the constitution of Bangladesh and the AL electoral pledge for ‘courtesy and tolerance’ in the political culture. According to a report front- paged in New Age on Monday, the mobile courts—thrust into hartal duty for the first time in the country’s history—sentenced 80 people, including 58 in the capital Dhaka, to imprisonment of varying terms, between one and three months, upon summary trial on the first day of the general strike on Sunday. While the government may froth in the mouth, trying to justify deployment of mobile courts during hartal hours as a means to protect public safety and security, it tends to suggest that the ruling alliance is willing to go any length to encroach upon the democratic— and constitutionally guaranteed— space for the opposition camp to carry out its political programmes. Such an expression of intolerance, if not tyrannical tendencies, by the government is perhaps not surprising. After all, the incumbents have time and again sought to foil political programmes of the opposition camp, on one pretext or the other, although the constitution recognises freedom of assembly as a fundamental right of the citizen. Not long ago, the government did not allow the opposition to organise such a decidedly innocuous political programme as human chain. Similarly, the government does not quite have an unblemished record insofar as the establishment of the rule of law is concerned. Hence, deployment of mobile courts by the government for summary trials, which by themselves are an affront to the very concept of the rule of law as they deny the accused the scope to adequately defend themselves, of pickets during hartal hours is also not quite surprising. Besides being the manifestation of the government’s apparent intolerance with the political opposition and disregard for the rule of law, the deployment of mobile courts provides yet another instance of blatant abuse of the subordinate judiciary to partisan end, which would further erode the credibility of the magistrates in the eye of the public. It will also make a mockery of the government’s repeated assertions of its commitment to the independence of the judiciary. Indeed, violence and vandalism in the name of protest are deplorable, no matter how reasonable the demands and how strong the grievances may be. As such, those who have damaged public property and endangered public safety and security need to be brought to justice. However, there are specific laws and procedures to address such offences. Moreover, if the government was truly against violence and vandalism per se, why is it that it remained largely silent in the face of atrocities and excesses committed by the Bangladesh Chhatra League and other associate organisations of the ruling party since its assumption of office in January 2009 ? Be that as it may, the government needs to realise that it has set a very bad precedent of repression on the political opposition. If the past is any indicator, the opposition parties, as and when they come to power, are likely to use it to a greater degree. All said and done, the ruling party may have introduced yet another vice in national politics, the consequence of which is likely to be felt for days to come.